When BMW introduced its first-generation X5 Sport Activity Vehicle (SAV) in 2000, it set itself apart from the mostly truck-based SUVs that predominated at the time. By basing the X5 on car-based mechanicals, many of which trickled down from its well-regarded 5 Series sport-luxury sedan, it gave the X5 a leg up in the fun-to-drive department.

Longer, wider, roomier and smoother-riding than the first-generation 2006 model it replaced, the 2007 BMW X5 added optional third-row seating, much more cargo space and improved legroom and shoulder room for passengers. The previous five-speed automatic transmission was upgraded to a six-speed with sequential sport shifting, and the base 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine gained 35 horsepower.

Why You Want It

Now in its second generation, the 2007-12 X5 is BMW's largest SAV. It holds up to seven people yet manages to drive like a sport sedan. Even though worthy competitors such as the Audi Q7, Acura MDX, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and Volvo XC90 also tout carlike virtues, the X5 stands out for its athletic ability. Simply put, the X5 drives smaller than it looks.

Notable Features and Options

First and foremost, all X5s come with BMW's acclaimed xDrive all-wheel-drive system, which automatically and seamlessly apportions power to the wheels with the best traction.

The least expensive 3.0si, the xDrive30i and the xDrive35i all come well equipped with standard features such as auto A/C, power front seats with memory controls, a power moonroof, a 12-speaker stereo, rain-sensing wipers, a tilting and telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and much more. Moving up to the V8 model adds upgrades including leather seating, better trim and an auto-leveling suspension.

All X5s can be configured with either five- or seven-passenger seating, keeping in mind that the optional third-row seating is sized for children. Opting for seven-passenger seating deletes the spare tire under the cargo floor, which then requires using run-flat tires. Run-flat tires are more expensive to replace because in essence there is a built-in spare in each tire.

Popular X5 options include a head-up instrument display that reflects in the windshield just below the driver's line of sight, a navigation system with traffic-based rerouting info, park distance control with rear camera, ventilated front seats, active roll stabilization with adaptive damping and active steering. The latter varies the steering ratio according to vehicle speed. A sport package adds larger wheels, more supportive sport seats and chassis control technology.

Model Milestones

2008: iPod interface added to Premium Sound Package. DVD audio changer replaces CD changer. Power moonroof is now standard.

2009: Six-cylinder turbo-diesel engine added. Wood console and dash trim are now standard on six-cylinder gasoline and diesel models.

2010: iDrive controller updated with smart keys. HD radio is now standard. Automatic high-beam headlamps now available. 555-hp X5 M performance model makes debut.

2011: Exterior sheetmetal is refreshed. Base gasoline six-cylinder is now turbocharged. New eight-speed automatic transmission and brake energy regeneration system are standard for all but diesel and X5 M. Roof rail airbags now extend to cover optional third-row seats. Active cruise control is a new option.

2012: New standard equipment includes a power liftgate, heated front seats, parking sensors, a cargo cover, auto-dim mirrors, LED headlamp rings, iPod/USB adapter and BMW Assist emergency communications system.

Engines and Performance

The base engine on 2007-08 3.0si and 2009-10 xdrive 30i X5s is a 260-horsepower 3.0-liter inline-6. This sweet powerplant, also found in the BMW 3 Series, is a model of smoothness and flexibility.

Beginning in 2009, the xDrive 35d features a 265-hp twin-turbo 3.0-liter turbo-diesel. The diesel's dual turbos are staged for great response, and its 425 lb-ft of torque provides V8-like pulling power while delivering an EPA-rated 19/26 mpg fuel economy.

A 350-hp 4.8L is standard on the 2007-08 4.8si and 2009-10 xdrive 4.8i models. It's EPA rated at 15/21 mpg. For 2011, the X5's engine choices went all-turbo, and a new eight-speed automatic replaced the six-speed automatic transmission in the xDrive35i and xDrive48i. The base engine became the 300-hp N55 single-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 from the 3 and 5 Series sedans. With it, fuel economy improved to 17/25 mpg.

The 4.4-liter V8 received twin turbochargers for 2011, bumping output to 400 hp. Completing the powertrain story is the awesome 555-hp twin-turbo V8 in the limited-production 2010-12 X5M.

Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties

NHTSA has announced the following safety recalls for the 2007 to 2012 BMW X5:

2007: Low brake fluid warning sensor may fail at high temperatures.

2007: On V8s, electrostatic discharge of fuel rails in sub-freezing weather can affect engine control module, stalling the engine.

2008: Small number of X5s were fitted with a sport rear stabilizer bar instead of the standard bar, affecting handling during fast lane changes.

2008: On 6-cylinders, a defective fuel pump can wear out prematurely, causing stalling.

2009: Rear brake discs may be defective, impairing stopping ability.

2009: On diesels, fuel filter heater can malfunction, draining the battery or leading to a fire.

2010-12: On 6-cylinder turbos, auxiliary coolant pump may overheat, causing a fire.

2011: Some vehicles with 20-inch wheels have a tire inflation sticker for 19-inch wheels.

2011: On diesels, defective belt tensioner can break, resulting in loss of power steering.

In government testing, NHTSA gave the 2008-10 X5 five stars for the driver in frontal impacts, four for the front passenger in frontal impacts and five each for driver's and passenger's side impacts. NHTSA did not test the 2007 or 2011-12 X5. All X5s rated four stars in rollover testing.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave its Good rating to all 2007-12 BMW X5s for frontal offset collisions and side impacts. Rear crash protection was deemed Poor on 2007 models but improved to a Good rating on 2008-12 X5s with active head restraints.

The 2007-12 BMW X5 came with four-year/50,000-mile powertrain and bumper-to-bumper warranties, plus free roadside assistance. BMW also offers a Certified Pre-Owned program for late model vehicles with less than 60,000 miles. To qualify, the car in question must pass a rigorous inspection program by a trained BMW mechanic. Once cleared, the vehicle receives a CARFAX vehicle report and is given a two-year/50,000-mile limited warranty that goes into effect once the factory four-year/50,000-mile warranty expires. With the two warranties combined, you'll be covered for up to six years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. As with any warranty, standard wear and tear items such as brakes, wiper blades, suspension parts and regular engine maintenance items (belts, hoses, spark plugs) are not covered by the warranty. For a complete list of what is and is not covered, visit BMW's website.

Word on the Web

ConsumerReports.org reviewed a 2012 xDrive35i turbo-diesel, lauding its abundant torque for towing or passing and its excellent fuel mileage, but noted that some diesel chatter was noticeable. According to the report, braking was firm and responsive, and handling was composed on the highway, with high cornering limits and lack of body lean. However, it said, the ride was choppy, especially over rough pavement, and steering effort was high at low speeds. Inside, CR's editors complimented the BMW's high-quality materials, firm and supportive seats and easy-to read instruments but bemoaned the lack of height-adjustable seatbelts and found the electronic shifter much more complicated and confusing than it should be.

Although ConsumerReports.org gave the 2012 X5 a Recommended rating, it predicts 6-cylinder gasoline-powered versions of the 2007-09 X5 will have much worse than average predicted reliability based on subscriber surveys, with engine cooling and fuel, electrical, climate and audio systems all singled out as problem areas. Consumer Reports also predicted below-average reliability for the turbo 6-cylinder gasoline engine used in 2011-12.

In a May 2007 comparison test of luxury crossovers, CarandDriver.com liked the tracking and handling of the X5 3.0si and gave thumbs up to its best-in-class stopping distance and poor-traction-defeating xDrive all-wheel-drive system. However, the C/D editors did find fault with its high steering efforts at parking lot speeds and its overly fussy shifter.

Competitive Set

Audi Q7- The Audi Q7 bristles with high-quality materials and details and, from a design standpoint, it sets the bar very high. Its ride quality is more composed than the X5's. Late-model versions have a fuel-saving eight-speed automatic transmission.

Acura MDX- If you are looking for the best bang for your mid-size luxury crossover dollar, the Acura MDX rises to the top. It's a well-rounded vehicle with plenty of contemporary style and is very well equipped for the price. Its V6 powertrain is smooth and refined, and it delivers quick acceleration with good fuel economy. Predicted reliability is much better than average.

Auto Trader Recommends

There may be more practical choices in the segment, but the BMW X5 is for buyers who love to drive and prefer a carlike experience behind the wheel. In Consumer Reports surveys, predicted reliability for 6-cylinder versions have been below average, so despite the fuel economy hit, a V8-powered X5 looks like a better choice. The high cost of maintenance and service parts will be high, so it's best to seek out a BMW Certified Pre-Owned car with the additional warranty coverage. Always choose lower-mileage examples if possible, and get a vehicle history report to make sure the X5's many recalls and product updates have been completed.

author photo

Lee Ronson started out creating new car product training videos and auto repair manuals, along the way penning for Auto, Gear, Car Craft, Exotic Cars Quarterly, Four Wheeler, Auto Hebdo, Bilsport, Travel/Holiday, Open Road, Chevy High Performance, Sport Auto and more. Today, Lee suits up for vintage car road rallies whenever the opportunity strikes.

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